John I. Leggett
It was the cold sweats that woke me up. Hands were okay―no trembling―just the same sweats that used to send me to my laptop to read my notes in the folder named “deleted stuff.” I guess that’s an oxymoron because people can’t have deleted stuff. It’s either deleted or it’s not. Later I hid my notes in another folder . . . things I saw the old lady do to the Miller twins that day. The old hag named Delany or Dechancy or something like that. Kids in the neighborhood call her the Witch Bitch.
I saw her up close once―in Ernie’s Superette. She rammed me in the gut with her cart. She was wearing a black bandana on her head to match the black skirt she always wore. It was long and narrow, as if she had wrapped a black towel around her waist. It wasn’t the kind of skirt that would puff out if she twirled around―not that she would ever do any twirling. It went all the way to her ankles and had specks of stuff on it, like dandruff, but I don’t think it was dandruff because I don’t think dandruff would fall that far from her head, and like I said, she was wearing a black kerchief.
Her face was mostly wrinkles and eyebrows. Big, black, bushy eyebrows, and she had a few hairs on her lip that obviously didn’t bother her or she would’ve plucked ’em. I was afraid to look at her so I stared at the frozen food section like I was going to buy a pizza or something. I followed her around like I was a spy and watched her wheel a box of spaghetti and some celery stalks up and down every aisle. When she got to the cereal aisle she added a box of Cream of Wheat before going to the check out girl.
The second time I saw her was through her kitchen window. The Miller twins were cutting through her yard and she ran out and grabbed each one by an arm and yanked them into her house. I peeked inside and saw everything. The twins were tied to kitchen chairs and their mouths were taped shut. She had scissors and knives and stuff on the table and I think I saw a doctor’s needle. The twins had tears streaming down their cheeks. I know now I should’ve done something but I ran away and hid under the old bridge. I wrote it all down because I couldn’t tell anyone what I saw without seeing it again in my mind. Now, if I die, the police will find the file in my computer and she won’t get away with it.
I added more details every time I read it to myself so now I have seven versions of what she did. Last Wednesday, I hit Ctrl-A to highlight everything and then I hit Delete but when the computer asked me if I wanted to save my changes, I said no. Even though Mr. Michaels, our computer teacher, told us nothing is ever permanently erased on a computer. He said a good team of FBI agents could take a laptop and find deleted stuff. I guess the particles are always floating around in cyberspace until the agents find them drifting around and put all the letters back together to make readable pages out of them.
I wondered then if I should’ve told the police because after a week they were still looking for the two brothers. By then I knew I’d waited too long. I knew if I told then, they’d arrest me for what they call being involved after the fact which I saw happen on a TV crime show. If you know something about a crime and don’t tell anyone then you’re guilty too. “Guilty after the fact,” the guy on TV said.
I thought about putting the folder into the trash can at the bottom of my computer screen but then I’d have to empty the trash and I have hundreds of other things in there that I might need some day. I had a serious problem and had to do something because I kept writing about the old lady and how she cut up Tommy and Billy just for going through her yard. I know they’ll never be found and just because I didn’t know them, it doesn’t seem right to delete them. I thought about throwing my laptop off the bridge into the river but I couldn’t get rid of it until I saved up enough money to get a new one just like it.
I didn’t want their short lives to just be a page on a computer screen so just to make sure, I put Tommy and Billy on a thumb drive and took my computer to the old shed behind our house. I put my laptop in the shed and burned it to the ground. I told my parents it was an accident―that I was sneaking a cigarette and some oily rags caught on fire. I made the whole thing up because I figured getting caught smoking was better than being arrested by the police after the fact. They were so thankful I was okay, I didn’t even get punished for smoking (which I thought was fair because I don’t even smoke. I just said that I was).
Now I wear the twins on a string in the protection of their new home―my thumb drive―which has become a cyber noose around my neck. But I take them places. Places they can’t go anymore to do things they may have wanted to do with their own friends. Sometimes, I take the thumb drive from around my neck and hold them in my hand. And sometimes I take them under the bridge where I hid that day and think about throwing the noose into the river.
If I do―I’ll be wearing it.
John I. Leggett is a fiction writer who resides with his wife in Maine. He has authored numerous short stories that have been published in periodicals, literary journals, anthologies, and serialized in Maine newspapers. Leggett has also published two novels for adults―The Five-Cent Gang and Diamonds In The Rough, along with a young adult novel, Auggie and the Fat man. Being too old to keep up with current trends, Leggett doesn’t know how to use twitter.